HC Deb 02 April 1985 vol 76 cc1163-87 10.30 pm
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Tony Newton)

I beg to move: That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Requirements and Resources) Miscellaneous Provisions Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 26th March, be approved. I understand that it will be for the convenience of the House if we discuss at the same time the following motion: That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Resources) Amendment Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 21st March, be approved. Since I imagine that the main interest is in the first set of regulations concerned with board and lodging, it may be sensible for me to say a few words about the second set of regulations before turning to the board and lodging issue.

The second set of regulations concerns the relationship between statutory sick pay and supplementary benefit. The position here is simple. When statutory sick pay was introduced in April 1983 to replace national insurance sickness benefit for the first eight weeks of sickness in most cases, other than the unemployed and the self-employed, it was intended that it should be treated for supplementary benefit purposes in exactly the same way as the benefit it replaced, that is, fully taken into account. It was believed that that was what the law established, and it is on that basis that claims to supplementary benefit from those on statutory sick pay have been treated.

Recently, however, a social security commissioner's decision has called this into question by holding that statutory sick pay should be subject to the same £4 disregard as earnings for supplementary benefit purposes. The chief adjudication officer is to seek leave to appeal from this decision; so, to that extent, the precise state of the law may be subject to further clarification. Meanwhile, however, we have thought it right to bring forward this regulation to put the position beyond doubt for the future.

In my view, it is not merely contrary to policy and intention, but as a general rule also contrary to common sense that one income maintenance benefit whose costs are entirely met by the state should be partly disregarded for the purposes of assessing another income maintenance benefit whose costs are also entirely met by the state. In this case, the absurdity is magnified by the fact that national insurance sickness benefit continues to be taken into account in full, so that on the commissioner's ruling there would be two different applications of the supplementary benefit rules to people who are sick. I hope, therefore, that these regulations will command the support of both sides of the House.

If I have carried the House with me on that, it would, I think, be optimistic to expect the same degree of assent on the Government's proposals for board and lodging, to which I now turn. I hope, however, that there will be general agreement on the unsatisfactory working of the existing rules in recent years, and on the need for them to have been reviewed. I think the House is familiar with the expenditure figures. The total of expenditure on supplementary benefit on board and lodging has risen from around £60 million in 1979 to something approaching £600 million in 1984, both in the residential care sector and in the sector of ordinary board and lodging. The number of people in receipt of these payments has risen in a somewhat comparable, though not precisely comparable, fashion.

The effects of this situation have been disturbing hon. Members on both sides and many people outside the House. There is clear evidence of a considerable degree of abuse and exploitation of the rules — of cartel-type activities driving up charges, of establishments catering exclusively for DHSS claimants because of the guaranteed occupancy levels and payments that they bring, of higher charges for people on benefit than for those who are not on benefit, of kickback payments from landlords to claimants and of charges set — this includes the residential care sector—solely by reference to limits and not on a normal financial basis.

Anyone who doubts the scale of the abuse in the ordinary board and lodging sector need only look at the flood of advertisements in the newspapers in some parts of the country. I have with me one from the Thanet Times — it is one of a dozen or more that I could quote — saying: Accommodation at spacious home with all conveniences. DHSS fees arranged. All bedrooms have central heating, colour TV and tea-making facilities. As I say, I could multiply that many times. But just as bad as the abuse and exploitation that have been going on is the fact that we have ended up with many tens of thousands of young people trapped in accommodation which they could not possibly afford if they were in work, and they are thus in a peculiar version of the unemployment trap. That, as I have said on many occasions, is doing no service to them or to the rest of the community.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I am sure that my hon. Friend will carry the House with him because of the depth of evidence of abuse that exists. Will he, however, comment on the serious situation facing the elderly chronic sick, many of them in private nursing homes, who cannot be accommodated in local authority homes? There is widespread concern about the plight of those people. What plans does my hon. Friend have for them?

Mr. Newton

I shall deal with the residential care and nursing home sectors, which raise some different issues, in due course.

It was in response to the growing evidence of this increasingly unsatisfactory situation that the Government acted last year to freeze the limits then in operation and subsequently to put to the Social Security Advisory Committee the proposals which, substantially modified in the light of the advice of that committee, have led to the regulations that the House is debating tonight.

Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate and, with the leave of the House, I will respond as fully as I can at the end. Meanwhile, I shall not make the conventional ministerial speech, attempting to go into every detail of the regulations, but confine myself to the basic structure of what we propose.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The Minister says that the proposals have been substantially modified as a result of the SSAC response, but will he nevertheless confirm that that committee has said that the current proposals are unacceptable?

Mr. Newton

That is an exaggeration by a long chalk of what the SSAC has said. It has made a number of important points which we shall continue to take into account in monitoring the progress of charges under the regulations. The SSAC clearly acknowledged the need for something to be done about the problems that I have described. It made a number of suggestions and welcomed many of the changes that the Government have made in response to those suggestions and, as I said, we shall continue to take account of the committee's comments in monitoring progress.

The main element in what we are proposing is to lay down firm limits, set by Ministers, for particular kinds of accommodation, in some cases varied according to different parts of the country, and to substitute those firm limits for the existing thoroughly unsatisfactory position in which the local limits for board and lodging vary from £40 a week in some places to £110 in others; those for residential care homes vary from £55 a week in some cases to £220 in others; and those for nursing homes vary from £80 a week to £295. Those variations cannot be defended, and there are some other perverse effects in some cases, such as nursing home limits being lower than residential care limits.

We shall set limits, in the case of ordinary board and lodging, for each area at one of six standard rates ranging from £45 to £70 per week. Most will be set between £50 and £60. For this purpose, DHSS officers will be grouped to take account of Department of Employment travel-to-work areas so as to reflect as far as possible established accommodation, employment and travelling patterns.

Subject to those limits, there will be no further restrictions on anyone aged 26 or over, but for those aged 25 or under, unless they are in an exempt category, each of those areas will have a limit of two, four or eight weeks as a boarder, after which the non-householder rate will normally apply. For those 25 or under there will be exemptions from those time limits which will include anyone with a dependent child or in other defined categories, such as living in a hostel, being pregnant, sick, mentally or physically handicapped, having been in residence in the same accommodation for six months while employed or placed there under the guidance of a public authority.

I want to re-emphasise that, as I have already implied, there are special provisions for hostels, to which the Government attach very great importance. They are treated as a separate category — previously they came within the ordinary board and lodging definition — and will have a limit set at £70 nationally. There will be no restrictions on stay for people in hostels.

Coming to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) concerning residential care and nursing homes, here we have set limits at a level which we believe will allow reasonable charges to be made in homes meeting the new registration arrangements under the Registered Homes Act 1984. Those limits, which I outlined to the House a couple of weeks ago but will repeat now, are as follows: residental care homes for the elderly, £110 a week; residential care homes for the mentally ill, £120 a week; residential care homes for drug and alcohol misuse, £120 a week; residential care homes for the mentally handicapped, £140 a week; and residential care homes for those who became physically disabled below pension age, £170 a week.

A sum equivalent to the higher rate of attendance, which is at present £28.60, will be added to the limit for nursing homes. In line with the Social Security Advisory Committee's recommendation, we are introducing an additional category for hospices catering for the terminally ill, with a maximum limit of £198.60 a week.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Will the Minister not recognise that there is a potentially dangerous anomaly arising from the fact that the attendance allowance cannot be given as an addition to the £110 for residential care homes for the elderly? If elderly people who deserve and get any attendance allowance have gone into hospitals, there will be a tendency for those residential care homes not to want them to come back and there will be growing pressure on the hospitals with geriatric beds?

Mr. Newton

I am not quite sure that I follow the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, because attendance allowance is not payable in any event to those in hospital. Nor has it been payable to those in local authority homes, but only to those in private and voluntary homes. It has been widely recognised that that is anomalous. Indeed, this is one of the proposals that was quite clearly and plainly welcomed by the SSAC. If we have got the limits right—and I recognise that this is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston is making — it is obviously ridiculous to set limits that are designed to take account of the care that is provided in a particular home and then to pay an attendance allowance which is designed to pay for care on top. I think that that is generally accepted.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Having served in local government for some time and on the social services committee, I wonder if my hon. Friend could explain how he has reached the figure of £110 per week for residential care homes for the elderly when the economic rate charged to those who have a very modest income and capital is far in excess of that figure already? If the economic rate is more than £110 a week in a part III residential home, why have the Government pitched the figure which they are prepared to meet at below what is the economic figure and has been for some time in the local authority sector?

Mr. Newton

I will gladly look at any additional information which my hon. Friend — and indeed my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston—can give me on this subject. We recognise the difficulties in deciding precisely what the right figures are in this difficult area. We have taken the best information available to us, including information about the actual costs of local authority homes, setting these limits. But, as I have emphasised throughout this argument on a number of occasions and want to emphasise again tonight, we are very conscious of the need to monitor these provisions, because we accept the difficulties that lie in deciding precisely what the right figures are in this area and are entirely prepared to review the decisions we have made in the light of the further evidence or experience that may be brought forward.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

How has the nursing home charge of £138.60 per week been calculated? It is only £28.60 higher than the amount available for patients in ordinary residential care homes. We must bear in mind the fact that the standard of care, the staffing level and the nursing care are very much higher in a nursing home.

Mr. Newton

Quite simply, we felt that the most sensible proxy to take for the additional costs of nursing care in addition to residential care was the rate of main social security benefit paid for care purposes—namely, the attendance allowance. We took, therefore, the higher rate of attendance allowance at £28.60.

I am conscious that a number of those concerned with nursing homes and other institutions have questioned whether that figure is sufficient. What we do not have is sufficient evidence to judge whether they are right in believing that the figure should be somewhat higher, or, if so, in deciding precisely what that figure should be. It is one of the matters to which, in our monitoring, we shall be paying particular attention. Indeed, we shall actively seek further information to improve our knowledge about the additional costs of nursing care over and above residential care. Should that information show that £28.60 is too low, we shall be willing to revise that figure.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

I cannot understand the Minister's reply to his hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) that he will take more evidence. The average number of people giving evidence to the Social Security Advisory Committee has been exceeded six or seven times. Indeed, the number of people giving evidence on this matter is four times more than the previous highest total. How much more evidence does the Minister want? He has all the evidence in a booklet produced by the Social Security Advisory Committee, but he has ignored almost every one of its recommendations.

Mr. Newton

I accept that we are not short of evidence in the sense of claims about the consequences of certain sets of proposals and about the desirability of higher limits—mostly from those who have an interest in the matter. However, we are short of sufficient objective data to go beyond the best assessment that we have been able to make in the figures that we have set out in the regulations. I really cannot go further tonight than to re-emphasise that these regulations and figures are not set in concrete. The Government are approaching this matter in the spirit of being willing to listen to further representations and, above all, to consider further detailed information that would enable us to refine the proposals. That is the sensible way in which to proceed.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

I am sure that what my hon. Friend has said about keeping the matter under review is a fair offer. He also said that these figures were not set in concrete. What would he have to do if he decided, after four or five months, that there was need for adjustment? Would we need another set of regulations or does he have the power to raise the figure slightly if that is required?

Mr. Newton

The Secretary of State simply has to set different figures. One of the advantages of the way in which we are proceeding is that we have the flexibility to respond to the concerns that hon. Members are expressing tonight. That is sensible.

Some anxieties will be relieved by the knowledge that for a home registered under more than one category the limit will reflect the care category of the individual claimant. When a home is registered for the care of the mentally ill as well as for the elderly, the mentally ill limit, which is slightly higher than the residential care limit, will apply.

We accept the need for transitional arrangements and for additional protection for some existing claimants. People over pension age in residential care or nursing homes can continue for life to have the charge met at the existing level or until payment under the new limits becomes more favourable.

People under pension age in residential care or nursing homes can continue for a year to have their charges met at the current level. The same applies to hostels when residents remain in existing accommodation. For ordinary board and lodging cases, protection will be for between four and 13 weeks, depending on precise circumstances. People with special circumstances who receive the additional amount of up to £16.15 a week in ordinary board and lodging—mainly elderly and disabled people—will receive one year's protection.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will price protection include an element of inflation, or will a flat rate obtain throughout?

Mr. Newton

We never intended that an element of inflation-proofing should be included. The existing payment should be continued until it is overtaken by any subsequent rise in the limit which applies to a particular home.

This is a difficult and complex part of the supplementary benefit system. It is necessary to try to strike a reasonable balance between many considerations. We shall monitor the changes carefully, seek to improve the information available to us and be prepared to consider whether further changes should be made in the light of experience.

These proposals are not set in concrete for all time. We believe that they are essential to ensure a better use of resources to meet genuine social needs while checking waste and abuse. I commend the regulations to the House in that spirit.

10.52 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

The regulations should be set in concrete and thrown into the Thames so that they are never seen again.

The first set of regulations follow the usual pattern. The Minister explains why the law is not what he thought it to be, not what he said that it was a few months or years ago, and that therefore he is forced to change the regulations.

The second set of regulations are more unusual. Even before the resolution is carried, the Minister says that the regulations are faulty and unsatisfactory, that there is not enough evidence or data, and that they will be reviewed.

The Minister had said that the Government intended to review the figures in November 1986. Now they intend to review them in April 1986, despite the fact that the Social Security Advisory Committee said that the denial of an uplift and review in November 1985 seemed "punitive", so unsatisfactory did the Committee consider the figures in the document to be. Now the Government plan to delay the review by six months, unless Government Members influence Ministers.

We should all recognise that we are dealing with the consequences of Government policy in a number of areas. We are not dealing with something that happened as a result of an unpredicted long-term trend. It is one of the Government's characteristics that they appear to be incapable of realising that the actions that they take separately in several different areas impinge one on another.

It was probably quite sensible that about a year ago the Minister raised the restrictions placed on offices on the claims that they should meet. The restrictions then operating did not meet the real needs of claimants and the real sums that they were being forced to pay. There was much criticism of the system at that time and the Minister relaxed it. He was not aware that while he was taking that action—as I have said, it was probably quite sensible in the context in which he took it—some of his colleagues were urging the privatisation of everything that the Government could get their hands on and the making of money out of any sort of human misery or need for which they could provide a service.

I accept that there are some who wish genuinely to care for the elderly, who have done so over many years and who now find themselves being hammered by a Government whom nearly all of them support. However, another group has sprung up. The members of it are usually admired by Conservative Members, and they are the so-called entrepreneurs. They have discovered overnight their concern for the elderly. In many instances, this realisation has come rather late in life. There is little doubt that the publicity that was given to the moves made by the Minister to allow a more relaxed attitude towards payments made those involved in the running of residential homes and board-and-lodging accommodation aware that there was a demand which could be exploited. There is little doubt that this has led to payments being made on a scale and in circumstances which were not originally intended.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The hon. Lady has cast an unfortunate slur upon many who have decided to provide private accommodation for the elderly, the mentally infirm, the mentally ill and others who cannot be accommodated in hospital. Will she admit that it is clear from the statistics in her possession that many of these entrepreneurs, as she calls them, have been social workers, nurses or psychiatric nurses who have spent their working lives looking after those who need help and who see a need for accommodation in the private sector? The slur that she has cast upon them is entirely unjustified.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman referred a short while ago to his local authority experience. He should consult his ex-local authority colleagues on their experience now. He would find that in almost every authority throughout the country there is worry about a new breed which is setting up homes to exploit the payments to which the Minister referred. Local authorities are not worried about those to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred, who have often spent a lifetime looking after those who are in care.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Does the hon. Lady know that the nursing-home charges that are proposed will still be only a fraction of the cost of looking after patients in a geriatric wing of an NHS hospital?

Mrs. Beckett

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that there are a number of homes where the cost of providing care is very cheap because their standards are so low? We have already had examples of serious abuses, and this is concerning local authorities, including many which are Conservative controlled, throughout the country. If Conservative Members cannot distinguish between a decent person providing a proper service at a proper charge, who is being hammered by the Government, and those who are seeking to exploit the elderly, their information is defective, to say the least.

Charges have been increased for board and lodging. The Minister did not say much about that tonight. Indeed, he chose to stay away from board and lodging to some extent. We have heard a good deal from other sources about increased expenditure in this area, which has been due mostly to the increased number of young people who have been forced into board-and-lodging accommodation.

The Government seem to be astonished that hundreds of thousands of young people on the dole with no prospect of an independent life, let alone one financed by a decent job, should start to drift away from their homes, often in circumstances of family dispute. The Government seem to be even more astonished that sometimes those who have no jobs leave home at a time when the Government have imposed non-dependant deductions on families already sufficiently poor to receive housing benefit, with almost £9 a week extra to be paid for by the young person in work.

The Government ask why so many young people are going into board and lodging. It is because the vast number of young people — almost 50,000 — who go into this board and lodging accommodation which is often expensive and even more often squalid, have no real choice. The Government have so tied the hands of local authorities that, even in the face of rising need, they cannot provide sufficient places for the elderly, whether in residential care or in places for the mentally ill. The Government have presided over a catastrophic slump in housing. It is complacent twaddle for the Secretary of State to refer in his report to the ready availability of housing. He said: there continue to be large numbers of unocuppied local authority dwellings". That was the right hon. Gentleman's reply to the Social Security Advisory Committee.

It is a pity that before the Secretary of State put that reply in the hands of the House in March 1985, he did not read a report in February 1983 from his colleague the Secretary of State for the Environment. That survey of local authority dwellings stated: According to the best assumptions available, there is a shortfall of public sector dwellings for rent to meet both special and general housing needs, which cannot be satisfied by other means. The report continued: The majority of empties owned by the 30 authorities, and almost all those vacant over a year, are those undergoing or awaiting rehabilitation, or demolition. They are awaiting rehabilitation because the Government have cut the money that the local authorities are able to spend on rehabilitating those dwellings.

In 1977, it was predicted that we would need 300,000 houses a year to meet the growth in new households. For the past four years, there have been fewer than 200,000 completions a year. The shortfall has been especially dramatic in the public sector, to which one would hope that most of the type of youngsters who go into this accommodation would turn. It was estimated that 120,000 houses would be needed, but for the past three years, there have been fewer than 50,000 completions a year. Over the past six years, public sector authorities have provided nearly 300,000 fewer houses than were thought necessary. It is no wonder, with such a shortage of public sector houses, that youngsters are forced into board and lodging.

In the same section of the report in which the Secretary of State for the Environment referred to empty houses, he said that there was an overall surplus of housing. More careful account should be taken of where housing is available, of the needs of those in overcrowded conditions, and so on. There is a net shortage in real terms of 800,000 homes, according to Shelter's estimates.

The money that is spent on providing housing is decreasing all the time. In 1985–86, gross capital expenditure by the public sector will be 40 per cent. lower, gross local authority capital expenditure will be 45 per cent. lower and net local authority capital expenditure will be 79 per cent. lower than in 1979–80, reflecting the reduction in the Government's contribution to housing.

These are the root causes of the problem, as the Social Security Advisory Committee identified in its report. The committee pointed out that the regulations do nothing to resolve the underlying difficulties. Referring to the proposes, the committee stated: We doubt, however, whether any satisfactory control can be imposed on the use of supplementary benefit board and lodging accommodation until these issues are faced and dealt with … In our view, it is because they tackle the symptoms rather than the causes of growth in costs and numbers, that they are unlikely to provide a long-term solution. Even during the past couple of days, hon. Members have received telephone calls and letters from the many agencies and groups involved in dealing with those who will be affected by the regulations. Those groups would normally, if not always, be wholly sympathetic to the Government. They certainly seek to be non-partisan and non-party political. [Laughter.] An hon. Member laughs. Does he call the Royal National Institute for the Blind partisan and party political? Perhaps he does if he does not agree with his Government. The RNIB points out, as did the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), the disadvantages and problems caused by the limits set by the Government for those in its homes. It draws attention to the difference between the limit for physically disabled people who become disabled before retirement, at 170 a week, and that for those who become disabled after retirement, at £110 a week.

I follow the logic of the Government's argument, but in that case, as in so many others, they are mistaken. The RNIB draws attention to one group about whom they are mistaken. It points out—I do not think that the Minister will be able to disagree—that people who become blind after the age of 65 find greater difficulty in adjusting to their circumstances. They need more care and assistance, which costs more. It draws attention to the fact that most people who go blind go blind later in life.

Age Concern says that, despite strong representations to the Government — the Social Security Advisory Committee supported this claim — there is no category for the elderly mentally infirm, although it identifies them as people who face increased costs.

The British Refugee Council draws attention to the unsatisfactory nature of the proposals for hostels. It says that the people with whom it deals have the greatest need for security and the avoidance of conflict with authority, yet they face the greatest problem. With the costs for its hostels in central London, which it cannot reduce, it will have substantial difficulties and may be forced to close some of the hostels.

The Church of Scotland draws attention to the fact that, in its 41 homes that it runs for the elderly, the rates offered by the Government are below the rates it needs to charge to run the homes. It complains that local authorities are not allowed to top up the payments made for such homes. That brings me back to the point that I was debating with the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), because the Church of Scotland says that there is great anxiety about homes which are exploitative and not properly run. If local authorities were allowed to top up payments to the level which might meet some of the cases that I suspect Conservative Members will mention later, it might offer an opportunity for a greater exercise of interest and control.

The SSAC report calls repeatedly and throughout for more research. The Minister said that there was not much evidence for the figures. The SSAC says that there is little evidence to support the proposals that are being put forward. It regrets the fact that transitional protection for board and lodging is confined to the level rather than the period in the area.

I come to board and lodging. The SSAC mentions the strong possibility — this is perhaps the most dangerous part of the Government's proposals — that the Government are on the verge of creating a class of homeless and rootless young person who is unable to return to the parental home, for whatever reason, and who cannot remain long enough in any one location to find permanent accommodation or a job. The Government suggest— other acceptable accommodation is available to these young people if they choose to seek it — a proposition which we doubt Ironically, the current proposals may actually hamper young people from moving into more settled housing by preventing them from establishing the continuous residence qualification required both for local authority accommodation and for housing associations property. The Minister said that young people in that category will have, depending upon their good fortune and circumstances, anything from four to six weeks to find themselves somewhere else to live. If they are under 26, they may have been living in the accommodation for two or three years without the opportunity to find a job. They will suddenly find themselves effectively out on their ear, without a real opportunity to re-establish themselves in a stable way of life. The pressure on them to move and move again or to lose their benefit is creating a group of new nomads, created by the Government.

One reads the Government's proposals first with incredulity and then with mounting anger as one realises the effects on, as is usually the case, some of the most vulnerable sections of the population. Realistically, four weeks is just not enough time to find a job for anybody who has the slightest difficulty. I notice that in his statement the Secretary of State says that 25 per cent. of young people find a job in under four weeks. That means that 75 per cent. of young people do not. In many parts of the country, after four weeks they will have to move on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) drew the Minister's attention to criticisms of the proposals. The Minister said that he thought that my hon. Friend was harsh about what the SSAC said, so let me remind the Minister of what it said: the proposed changes seem to us to have serious defects. They are so serious that we recommend that the changes are seen overtly as temporary changes … We think this is particularly the case with the proposals for ordinary board and lodging. One of the worst aspects—although it appears to be the most minor—of the board and lodging proposals is the proposal that a couple with a child under 11 will be allowed only the rate for one and three quarter people rather than for two people, irrespective of the fact that the rate for two people is probably charged where they live. Despite the scathing comments of the SSAC about anecdotal evidence not being a sufficient basis for legislation, it did not seem to be able to discourage the Government from legislating on that basis.

Let me offer the Minister a different anecdote. Only yesterday I heard of a couple in west London who are fortunate enough to be paying £7.50 a night each for their lodging. They will lose £25.90 from the payments to which they are entitled, not because of the limits, although the limits are lower than what they are paying, but because of the one and three quarters effect. That young couple are in quite reasonable accommodation, but they have experienced worse circumstances. Two years ago they were living in accommodation so squalid that there was a terrible fire there. They were fortunate enough to escape, although some people who lived in the house were burnt to death. That is what they are going back to when the regulations come into effect. I find their anecdotal evidence much more important than the squeals that we heard from Conservative Members when the temporary regulations were debated, about the people living in pleasant seaside resorts who did not like seeing unemployed young people from Liverpool in their resorts during the summer. That is a little less important than the danger in which the Government's proposals will put so many young people.

I shall finish with just one other quote from the SSAC about all the people who want, the Government appear to think, to go and live in this board and lodging: In some cases … claimants were enduring substantial domestic and other stress before moving into accommodation. The conditions … are often of an extremely low standard, and may involve sharing rooms with strangers, having to vacate rooms during the day, dirty and unsafe accommoation, and inadequate meals of poor quality. This is far from the luxurious lifestyle which it is sometimes implied that board and lodging claimants follow. That option cannot be the foundation of a workable benefits policy.

The regulations are possibly the biggest shambles that the Government have put before the House so far on supplementary benefit. I hope that I am not pre-empting the Fowler reviews in saying that. They are more than a shambles; they are a disgrace. I say to the Minister and his colleagues that not only his Government and his party but the whole country will ultimately suffer from the systematic, step-by-step removal of dignity and hope from thousands of the most vulnerable young people in the country.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I remind the House that the debte must end at one minute past midnight, and many hon. Members wish to take part.

11.14 pm
Mr. Gerrard Neale (Cornwall, North)

To the people of north Cornwall the provisions are not a disgrace or a shambles. On the contrary, they are widely welcomed and people find them most reassuring.

The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) said that 50,000 people were affected by the provisions. If her figures are correct, 4.5 per cent. of those people are in Newquay and north Cornwall. The hon. Lady seemed to imply that the coastal problem did not matter very much, but I can tell her straight that it matters a great deal to people in areas such as mine and those of many of my hon. Friends who feel equally strongly about this.

We greatly welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister listened so carefully and diligently to the representations made to him in the consultation period and that he has put a freeze on the payments. I especially welcome the area structure that he has imposed, which will greatly improve the situation in Newquay and in areas such as Thanet which have the same problem. We also welcome the imposition of a limit on the length of time for which the large number of people coming into these areas can enjoy not the squalid condditions the the hon. Member for Derby, South described but conditions in which many of my low-paid constituents could never afford to spend a holiday. I believe that the action taken by my hon. Friend the Minister will go a long way towards solving the problem.

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

To be fair, when the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) mentioned squalor and so on she was quoting directly from the social security advisory committee report.

Mr. Neale

The hon. Lady suggested that Government policy had forced young people into this kind of situation, but there is no evidence that any of the young people coming from Scotland and the north-west to areas such as Newquay were driven by anything other than the greater benefits to be gained from so doing. As I have said before, throughout last summer there were more than 100 jobs available in Newquay, but more than 2,000 youngsters came in from outside the area and remained on the unemployed list for the entire summer.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but should not the Minister meet it by proposing that in areas where jobs are alleged to be available benefits should be directly linked with people taking the jobs rather than by introducing blanket provisions which affect everyone irrespective of whether jobs are available?

Mr. Neale

I will return to that point later.

I should make it clear to the Opposition that the indignation about the board and lodging payments made to young people coming into areas such as ours comes not from the wealthy or the traditional retired Conservative party supporters but from the low-paid and their families and even the unemployed who live in rented accommodation themselves. Those people greatly welcome the steps taken by my hon. Friend the Minister to cure the problem.

In areas such as mine it is recognised that provisions of this kind are temporary and designed for people in particular circumstances. Some may come to regard them as permanent arrangements, but that is not how they should be seen and I understand that that is not how my hon. Friend the Minister sees them. The line that he is taking is most welcome and I support him fully.

However, as I said when the statement was made, I feel that during the course of the review which is to be continued, and which is very welcome, while my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security considers how the operation of the system may be unfair on some people —we would all wish him to look at that — he should also consider whether when someone moves from one area of unemployment to another — even on the basis of a two-week, four-week or eight-week claim — he should not be moving in pursuance of a job for which he has an interview. He should have some proof that he has a reason for going to that area.

There is 30 per cent. male unemployment in my constituency. It is preposterous to suggest that someone from Glasgow or the north-west stands a reasonable chance of getting work there. My hon. Friend must look at that problem, in the fullness of time. However, I congratulate him on what he has done. It will do much to improve the situation.

11.22 pm
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

First, of course a review was necessary. It would be irresponsible of any hon. Member on either side of the House to say that some of the costs falling on the Minister's budget were not beginning to get out of control. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale), to whom I listened with interest, is right to say that it is absurd to send youngsters looking for work to seaside resorts such as Newquay which suffer from quite high levels of unemployment, although personally I do not blame youngsters from Liverpool and Glasgow for going to such places if the system allows them to do so.

However, the review was premature. We are awaiting the imminent production of the Government's response to a much longer-term and, one hopes, much more fundamental and enlightened review of the whole housing benefit system, and I would have preferred these proposals to have formed part of that.

The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) talked about treating the symptoms rather than the cause. I share that view. For some of these 16, 17, and 18-yearolds, the education system is breaking down; and the youth employment situation in this country is as it is. That being so, it is inevitable that some casualties will be thrown onto the social services and onto our housing facilities, and the social services and housing facilities cannot measure up to the extent of the problem. Inevitably, the hon. Gentleman's Department gets it in the neck. He has to pick up the tab for the casualties of the education, employment, housing and social services systems.

If the Minister thinks that he can turn off the tap by screwing the money down, he is wrong. He will only push the problem further down the line into the hospitals and the prisons. That is what will happen if youngsters are thrown out of hostels and board and lodging accommodation.

We must consider the strategic issues. On 26 March, The Guardian wrote that This Government's housing policy has now reached the stage of economic as well as social madness. Bed and breakfast hotels in London are netting over £1 million a month in social security and ratepayers' money to accommodate homeless families … who could be accommodated more cheaply in council houses if only the Government would allow any to be built. That is the level at which we should start to consider the problem. There are important aspects of social work and housing to be considered. We should spend more money on council housing and there should be greater opportunities in the private rented sector. I would be prepared to look at any proposals in that area that the Government brought forward. We should have hostels with proper standards to which the young people could go.

The limits are too low. I take the Minister at his word. He says that he will review the limits. My hon. Friends and I will watch carefully the way in which the proposals work and by November 1986—or much earlier if necessary—we will ask him to do something about them.

What is to happen to young people aged between 16 and 25 who are not in the exempted categories? I cannot answer the question put to me by some of the social work professionals in my constituency. What are these youngsters expected to do? Some of the people that I have spoken to think that these proposals are a precursor to supplementary benefit being completely withdrawn from 16 to 17-year-olds. I warn the Minister that, if he includes that in the package, he will get short shrift from us. The attitude displayed towards young people seems to be wholly against the Government's declared policy of labour mobility. That serious point should be considered.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) has now left the Chamber, but she made an important point about the problems of senile dementia. There are real problems about the staffing commitments for the elderly and mentally infirm, but the regulations do not cover that. If the Government categorise types of homes, the homes but not the residents will be registered. No method has apparently been put forward for matching the needs of the residents with the provision of homes. There is a possible element of abuse there, which the Minister should consider.

It is unfair to set flat limits across the country for residential and nursing homes, according to the category of the home. That is too inflexible. If the Minister is prepared to have geographical differences for board and lodging payments, he should be equally flexible about the limits for residential and nursing homes. The level and limit for charges is too low. As I told him when he made a statement in the House on 26 March, some good and proper homes may have to close because in some areas the limits will be set too low.

I recognise the problem, but the Government have not handled it properly. I shall recommend that my right hon. and hon. Friends vote against the regulations. They are premature, and too complicated, centralised and superficial. They are also designed to save money and are a body blow to youngsters and to elderly people who are least able to look after themselves.

11.26 pm
Mr. Humphrey Maims (Croydon, North-West)

I wish to concentrate on DHSS payments to bed and breakfast hotels for the homeless. I broadly welcome the regulations. There have been some tremendous abuses in the bed and breakfast world. However, there is one area in which the Government have not so far acted.

In my constituency in Croydon I have come across some appalling cases. Sometimes husbands and wives, with two or three children, are condemned to live in 12 ft or 14 ft square rooms for months on end in conditions of the utmost squalor. Sometimes landlords charge about £100 a week to let one room. If that figure is multiplied by 10 for the number of rooms in the same hotel, the amount of abuse, hardship and sadness caused to those families can be understood. They certainly do not deserve the fate that they have met.

The Government are right to act by cutting the payments that can be made. But there are two customers for any service. Although the taxpayer is one, the other must be the family on the homeless end of the chain. As things stand, when the DHSS makes board and lodging payments for hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and so on, there is no obligation on it to inspect the premises in order to check that they are satisfactory. In addition, there is no legal obligation on the housing authority to enforce any minimum standards of accommodation. There are powers, but no duties.

If we say that we will cut the payments made, we must go further and say that when payments for such accommodation are made we must be sure that both sets of customers obtain good value. In future we do not want families to be crowded into one room for weeks and sometimes months on end. Those who live, sadly, in board and lodging accommodation should be given basic decent standards. At present that is often not so.

I support the Government's introduction of the regulations from a financial standpoint, but I must urge them to take action in the not-too-distant future so that minimum standards of accommodation can be enforced. That is in the interests of those at the sharp end of the homeless problem.

11.30 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

When what the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Malins) has described happens to families who live in deplorable conditions in Croydon, it reflects a failed housing policy, economic madness because of the lack of investment in our housing infrastructure and failed social policies. One certain effect of the regulations is that, because the returns to landlords will be decreased, landlords will be tempted to squeeze, and will in fact squeeze, more people into limited and inadequate space, There will therefore be an increase in human misery of the kind which the hon. Member has described. That increase in human misery will not be monitored by local authorities because no obligations are placed upon them to monitor the deterioration in the nature of the accommodation which results from the Government's policies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) was correct to place these proposals in the wider context of the failure of the Government's housing policy. Demand is increasing for demographic reasons and for a whole range of social reasons as households increase, young people leave home and the divorce rate increases. At the same time as the demand increases, the supply is decreased because of the Government's housing policy. The inevitable result is the army of young gipsies who look around for accommodation which they cannot find.

If the Minister wants other than anecdotal evidence, I can tell him that even during the last week four bed and breakfast accommodation places in Swansea have said in anticipation of these new regulations that they will no longer accept claimants. Therefore, the supply of accommodation, however unsuitable, will decrease more and more. The Government are concerned about the symptoms, not about the underlying causes. They view it narrowly as a supplementary benefit problem, as escalating costs with a Treasury perspective, rather than in the perspective of social need and the social effects of their policies. The Minister should be ashamed. He is bound to increase the human sadness and despair of those who are working with the homeless.

The Minister mentioned that the Social Security Advisory Committee had said that some concessions had been made by him in response to the points which it had made. I refer him to paragraphs 100, 101 and 102 where the SSAC say in terms that these proposals are radically flawed.

There is no appeals procedure in respect of the new ceilings and there is no statutory obligation to review. As for the position of the 26 year-olds, among the exemptions outlined by the Minister there is an exemption for those who are subject to a programme of rehabilitation and resettlement, but they will benefit only during the first month. May I ask the Minister to look again at those in this category who make a second or subsequent move during the period of rehabilitation.

I believe that this is a shameful response to a real human need. The result will be a reduction in expenditure but at the cost of increasing homelessness and misery. Would it not have been better for the Government to carry out proper research, as the SSAC recommended, and consider the fire hazards, the effect of the denial of funiture grants and, therefore, of independent housing for young people, and for them to look at the case for specialised housing and the need for adequate provision across the board, as recommended by the SSAC, instead of punishing the victims of the Government's own policies?

11.35 pm
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) made two points in her speech, both of which were taken from press releases. I wish to cull from real experience and suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that the points made by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, one of whose excellent homes is in Westgate-on-sea in my constituency, are valid; those homes provide special and affectionate care. I urge my hon. Friend to pay attention not to what the hon. Lady read from a press release but to what those who wrote the paper said. Age Concern suggested that there is a category missing from provision for the elderly mentally infirm. From my experience of the good nursing homes for the elderly in my constituency, I know that there is a category missing. I urge my hon. Friend to pay special attention to those two submissions.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said that he believed the review was premature. The hon. Member for Derby, South said that youngsters were being forced to move away from home, and the suggestion is that this is a new problem. I am glad that my friend and adversary the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is here tonight, because he and I served on the governing body of a small primary school in Holborn and St. Pancras about 12 years ago. He will know that the children who attended that school were, to a large extent, the children of those who had come south from the north, even then looking for work. Sadly, the position in Camden in those 12 years has not improved; it has become much worse. The area round Argyle square, which he will know only too well, has become a shameful red light district, populated in the main by young ladies from the north who come to London looking for work, and have certainly found it.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)


Mr. Gale

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find his own way and his own time to reply to that remark. He knows it to be true.

I have made radio programmes on this subject, and I have had the depressing necessity to trawl the platforms of Euston station late at night while making a documentary on Centre Point. I found there the young people—I am talking about 10 years ago, when the Opposition were in power — who were enticed from the north in the fond belief that the streets of London are paved with the gold that they certainly were not then and are not now paved with.

One need only go a mile from here to the arcades in Piccadilly to find the rent boys who have moved out of the bed and breakfast accommodation that Opposition Members apparently believe they should be invited to move into from the north. Those young men and women are on the streets of London, plying whatever trade they can. The limit for young people will now be eight weeks. I would not want a child of mine to live for eight days in one of the hotels in Holborn and St. Pancras, never mind eight weeks.

I wish to mention the problem that has become known as dole-on-sea. It is no kindness to entice young people from other parts of the country to areas such as Margate, where there is higher unemployment now than there is on Wearside. This point was made on a Radio 1 programme the other night. The producer in her wisdom invited 20 young people from the Soho project with their handler, and wheeled them into Margate. She then trawled the hotels of Margate for DHSS claimants who were put into the audience and inflamed with a young singer by the name of Bragg who, I understand, is a particular friend of the Leader of the Opposition. One point came out of that: "Would you like to be left at the end of the week with £9 in your pocket?". There are elderly people in my constituency who, having paid their bills, having bought their food and having paid their mortgages, would dearly love to have £9 a week left in their pockets.

The other point that came out of the programme was a reference to what the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) called "gipsies." I do not believe that it is the Conservative party, the Government and these regulations that are likely to breed a generation of gipsies. I believe that the generation of gipsies, in so far as it exists, was bred by those who sought to entice young people away from their homes into the squalid accommodation and squalid circumstances that we have been discussing tonight.

Indignation is not the prerogative of the Opposition. Care for young people is not the prerogative of the Opposition. There are Conservative Members, of whom I am one, who spend a great deal of time working with young people. We firmly believe that the young deserve some dignity. We believe that they will be better off in their own home environment, that they will be safer among their friends, the young people with whom they went to school and the parents of those young people, even if they are unemployed in their own town, than they are likely to be if they are enticed away from home to live in accommodation where circumstances are less than ideal. I think of circumstances where, for example, the owner of the property has to go round the corner to the local pub in the middle of the night to ask whether he can borrow a barrel of beer because his own supply has run out. These young people will be better off in their own environment than in the kind of accommodation where the proprietor chauffeur drives his young people to the DHSS office to make sure that they claim their money to put into his pocket. They will be better off in their own environment than in the kind of property where the proprietor says, "Don't worry, you are on DHSS. Come and work for me and the black economy, and do not bother about a real job".

The Conservative party has done a great deal to introduce training measures for young people to endeavour to ensure that the sense of dignity to which I have referred is preserved so that young people have a real future and a real opportunity to look forward to.

The regulations support the principle of good hostel accommodation which is infinitely preferable, because in the main it is caring, as opposed to the kind of accommodation that Opposition Members have been talking about tonight.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I am interested in the emotion that my hon. Friend is displaying and also perhaps the knowledge that he has. However, how would he explain the fact that in the north-west region, for instance—and he comes from a seaside resort—the number of households accepted as homeless has risen from 4,250 in the second half of 1982 to 4,850 in the first half of 1984? Does this not indicate that there is a problem? It is not necessarily the problem of which my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security spoke so well in opening the debate, but it is the policy of the Government to restrict specialist accommodation for the single people in the country by a reduction in the amount of their capital receipts that local authorities can spend.

Mr. Gale

We have had the debate upon the expenditure of capital receipts. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and I went through the same lobby on the first vote. The difference between us is that on the second vote, having heard the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) to the effect that he was permitting 100 per cent. of capital receipts to be made available for low-cost housing built specifically for sale, and having secured a further concession in which my hon. Friend agreed to look at the same principle—

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

The hon. Gentleman's vote came cheap.

Mr. Gale

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) was not present in the debate. If he wishes to interrupt not from a sedentary position but on his feet, I will gladly give way to him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman had finished. Is he giving way to an intervention or has he finished?

Mr. Gale

I was hoping to give way to the hon. Member for Perry Barr, who apparently prefers to intervene from a sedentary position than on his feet.

The profit levels in the accommodation to which the regulations apply are unacceptable to hon. Members on both sides of the House. The regulations, which have my full support, will go a long way towards solving not only the problem of the exploitation of the social services and social security system, but the problem of the exploitation of the young people.

11.46 pm
Mr. Hugh Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

I agree with the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) that there is a problem, and none of my hon. Friends has tried to deny the existence of that problem. The hon. Gentleman described it, however, in somewhat lurid and exaggerated terms.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) may not be aware that this has not been a good week for Scotland in general and Glasgow in particular. The Prime Minister seemed to say that the capital city was not capable of coping with 50,000 football supporters — most of them friendly—from Scotland.

Tonight the hon. Member for Cornwall, North made another attack on Scotland. He spoke of youngsters in his constituency complaining about 1,000 young people new to the area not taking jobs that were available. Is there not machinery within the existing structure for dealing with people who will not take work? If the indigenous young people of his area will not take jobs that he says are available, there must be a social problem behind the influx of people in the area.

Mr. Neale

The figure is 2,000 and evidence can be produced to show that some have come from Glasgow, to name but one city. The level of payment to the young people who are coming in is more, by far in some cases, than the pay that they can get for the jobs available in the area. There is an incentive for them to come to the area, but a total disincentive for them to work.

Mr. Brown

I will not delay the House by dealing with the matter at length. The hon. Gentleman demonstrates that he knows nothing about the problem.

Without wishing to be patronising, I thought that the Minister introduced the regulations with his usual competence, though I thought that he lacked his usual conviction. Indeed, I got the distinct impression that he was unhappy with the regulations because he knew that they would not solve any problems and that he would soon have to revise them.

In that connection, does the Minister concede the point made by the advisory committee that a review will be needed long before 1986? Will he confirm that the various scales can be uprated before that date? He said that a further instrument would not be needed to uprate them. May we be assured that the problems which will arise, certainly in the short term, will be closely monitored?

Mr. Newton

We have said in response to the SSAC that we shall review them within a year of their coming into operation.

Mr. Brown

It may have to be done sooner than that. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the scales being monitored. It is to be hoped that they are reviewed soon.

The regulations represent a further attack on 16 and 17-year-olds in particular and on those under 25 in general. My constituency, by all standards of deprivation, is one of the worst in the country. It contains virtually no accommodation other than council houses. There are no board and lodging racketeers there because the sort of establishments that they run do not exist in the area.

There are genuine reasons why many young people leave home. This is one of the discriminatory elements in the regulations, because the young people are going to be forced to go to other parts of the city or the country when that is not what they want to do. So I hope that some sympathy will be shown and that, if these regulations are proving to be unsatisfactory and a lot of young people are likely to become rootless as well as homeless, the Ministers will give urgent consideration to changing the conditions so far as they affect young people.

11.50 pm
Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

It is perfectly possible to wish to crack down on the sort of abuses which my hon. Friends have mentioned and still to be very concerned about aspects of the regulations. In particular, it seems to me that to be contemplating reducing ceilings on weekly payments by, in places, as much as £30 a week at a time when there is a national shortage of housing, particularly in the city areas, at the same time removing the right of appeal to the Secretary of State, can only cause what is essentially a housing rather than a social security problem to worsen.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, quite rightly, that one of the consequences would clearly be that landlords of such houses would merely increase the amount they charge in order to maintain their profits. I am sure that he would also accept—because he understands these things — that in many areas, because landlords can obtain higher figures from tourists, those who are currently in the houses will lose their option and take second place to tourists. We have to recognise that there are market forces at work.

Mr. Neale

Would my hon. Friend also accept that there is a very clear indication as well that some of the landlords will switch back to putting proper catering facilities in the rooms and then allowing the people to come back within the housing benefit provisions, so that they will be covered that way?

Mr. Squire

I very much hope that my hon. Friend is right. He is speaking, and rightly so, of the position in a tourist coastal town. I am concerned, perhaps inevitably, about the problems in the big cities, particularly London, and the regulations cause me great concern.

Those who imply that there is the option of going back to a safe, warm home must understand that for many people under 25 that simply is not an option. If they returned home they would face physical violence, sexual harassment or God knows what else. That is not to say that there are not some who could return, but we must not delude ourselves into believing that a large number come into that category. They do not come from the sort of safe and protected home that many hon. Members come from. We forget that at our peril. The Social Security Advisory Committee report spells out very clearly this absence of alternatives.

I wanted to make the point about housing generally because, although it is self-evident, it needs to be put on the record.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Squire

I think that in fairness I should not. Normally I would not anticipate what my hon. Friend was going to say, but if he was going to suggest that there were faults, because of the absence of sufficient private acommodation, on the part of the Government, the legislation or whatever, I might be inclined to agree with him, but if that is the case, that is the problem we should tackle rather than what we are discussing tonight.

My other concern has to do with the board and lodging restrictions as regards those under 25. I feel genuinely concerned about this and believe that to some extent it is going against what we are rightly urging people to do. We want them to travel around and make themselves available for employment, yet we are instituting a system which economically at least, gives them every incentive to move on. We can all pull figures out of the air, of course, but the Government's own estimate is that anything up to 50,000 people under the age of 25 may be involved.

There will be three options. They will stay with friends or relatives — but if they do they will receive the reduced rate; they will sleep rough—there is sufficient evidence of that around London, and that cannot be reduced by what we are now discussing; or they will move to another area — which may cause difficulties with employment. It certainly will not ease their position if they are forced to move when they are trying to establish themselves. After six months, they may return to their original area.

We must remember the additional administrative costs to the DHSS of the considerable amount of mobility that must follow as a direct consequence of the regulations.

11.56 pm
Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I shall be brief because of the limited time available. Hon. Members may wish to hear comments from the Minister in reply to the debate.

There is great concern in Scotland about the effect of the regulations, especially because of the young Scots who may be involved. Rather than put the argument that I orginally intended to put, I shall refer to only two points. First, the position of 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland is different from that of those in England and Wales because a child becomes an adult in Scotland at the age of 16. There is no social work protection or provision thereafter.

If the parents cannot afford to keep a child—perhaps because of housing benefit — or where other factors drive a child from home, difficulties will arise. I hope that the Minister will address that point.

Secondly, in Dundee the liaison committee for the homeless had intended to establish a hostel to deal with young people, but because of the limit placed on the charges it can no longer do so.

11.57 pm
Mr. Newton

I can respond to only a few points, but as a number of hon. Members have made significant and important points I shall ensure that they are considered and, if necessary, I shall write to hon. Members where that might be helpful.

I re-emphasise what I said about our willingness to consider further representations and evidence and what I said to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) about our undertaking to review the limits within a year. He said that we may wish to do that earlier. If we reach that conclusion, we shall do so because that is the spirit in which we are approaching this matter.

A number of hon. Members have referred to representations from the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which have also come directly to me from Ian Bruce during the last couple of days; it was only today that I saw the representations of the British Refugee Council, and I have also seen those that Age Concern made about the elderly, senile, and mentally infirm.

It is entirely within the spirit of what I have already said when I say that I shall look carefully at what has been said, especially concerning the disabled and the blind. The blind may represent a special problem, and I shall approach the issue in that light.

As our response to the Social Security Advisory Committee indicated, we shall look carefully at its proposal for the elderly, senile and mentally infirm. However, it is quite simply a problem of defining who can be categorised in that area. If that problem can be overcome, I should wish to consider again whether there could be a separate limit.

I must say a few words about the broader issues that have been raised, especially in relation to young people. The point that appears to have been missed by most of those who have been most critical in the debate is the extent to which the problem is not, on any reasonable analysis, the result of the unhappy problem of unemployment among young people or of any other of the social problems to which reference has been made. The problem has been created mainly by the regulations which we now seek to change.

The number of young people of 25 years of age and under in board and lodging accommodation rose by 60 per cent. in 1983. It is expected to have risen by 51 per cent. in 1984 and is forecast to rise by 52 per cent. in 1985. That cannot be the result of problems to which hon. Members have referred. It is the result of a system which has given young people excessive encouragement to leave home. they have been trapped so that they cannot afford to take work. That does no service to young people.

I hope that those hon. Members who have spoken strongly in the debate will recognise that part of our responsibility is to ensure that we do not continue to build up the problem. The regulations are not a perfect answer and we shall continue to try to improve them. However, they are an essential step in tackling a problem.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 227, Noes 168.

Division No. 180] [12.01 am
Aitken, Jonathan Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)
Alexander, Richard Baldry, Tony
Amess, David Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Ancram, Michael Batiste, Spencer
Arnold, Tom Beaumont-Dark, Anthony
Ashby, David Bendall, Vivian
Aspinwall, Jack Benyon, William
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Best, Keith
Bevan, David Gilroy Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Blackburn, John Lord, Michael
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Lyell, Nicholas
Boscawen, Hon Robert McCrindle, Robert
Bottomley, Peter McCurley, Mrs Anna
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Macfarlane, Neil
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Maclean, David John
Brandon-Bravo, Martin McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Bright, Graham McQuarrie, Albert
Brinton, Tim Major, John
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Malins, Humfrey
Bruinvels, Peter Malone, Gerald
Buck, Sir Antony Marlow, Antony
Burt, Alistair Mather, Carol
Butcher, John Maude, Hon Francis
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Carttiss, Michael Merchant, Piers
Cash, William Meyer, Sir Anthony
Chope, Christopher Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Miscampbell, Norman
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Moate, Roger
Cockeram, Eric Monro, Sir Hector
Colvin, Michael Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Conway, Derek Moore, John
Coombs, Simon Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Cope, John Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Cormack, Patrick Murphy, Christopher
Couchman, James Neale, Gerrard
Currie, Mrs Edwina Needham, Richard
Dickens, Geoffrey Nelson, Anthony
Dorrell, Stephen Newton, Tony
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Nicholls, Patrick
Dover, Den Normanton, Tom
Durant, Tony Norris, Steven
Dykes, Hugh Onslow, Cranley
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Oppenheim, Phillip
Eggar, Tim Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Emery, Sir Peter Osborn, Sir John
Eyre, Sir Reginald Ottaway, Richard
Fairbairn, Nicholas Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Fallon, Michael Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Farr, Sir John Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)
Favell, Anthony Pollock, Alexander
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Porter, Barry
Forman, Nigel Portillo, Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Powell, William (Corby)
Fox, Marcus Powley, John
Freeman, Roger Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Gale, Roger Proctor, K. Harvey
Garel-Jones, Tristan Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Gorst, John Rathbone, Tim
Greenway, Harry Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Gregory, Conal Rhodes James, Robert
Grist, Ian Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Gummer, John Selwyn Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Hannam, John Roe, Mrs Marion
Hargreaves, Kenneth Rossi, Sir Hugh
Harris, David Rowe, Andrew
Hayes, J. Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Hayhoe, Barney Ryder, Richard
Hayward, Robert Sackville, Hon Thomas
Heddle, John Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Sayeed, Jonathan
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hunter, Andrew Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Jackson, Robert Shersby, Michael
Kershaw, Sir Anthony Silvester, Fred
King, Rt Hon Tom Sims, Roger
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Skeet, T. H. H.
Lang, Ian Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lawrence, Ivan Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Speller, Tony
Lester, Jim Spence, John
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Spencer, Derek
Lightbown, David Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Lilley, Peter Squire, Robin
Stanbrook, Ivor Waldegrave, Hon William
Steen, Anthony Walden, George
Stern, Michael Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton) Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Stevens, Martin (Fulham) Ward, John
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Warren, Kenneth
Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire) Watson, John
Stokes, John Watts, John
Stradling Thomas, J. Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Sumberg, David Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Taylor, John (Solihull) Wheeler, John
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Whitfield, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Whitney, Raymond
Terlezki, Stefan Wiggin, Jerry
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Winterton, Mrs Ann
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Winterton, Nicholas
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Wolfson, Mark
Thornton, Malcolm Wood, Timothy
Thurnham, Peter Woodcock, Michael
Townend, John (Bridlington) Yeo, Tim
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tracey, Richard Younger, Rt Hon George
Trotter, Neville
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Tellers for the Ayes:
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Mr. Archie Hamilton and
Viggers, Peter Mr. Michael Neubert.
Waddington, David
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Deakins, Eric
Alton, David Dewar, Donald
Anderson, Donald Dixon, Donald
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dobson, Frank
Ashdown, Paddy Dormand, Jack
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Dubs, Alfred
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Barnett, Guy Eastham, Ken
Barron, Kevin Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Ewing, Harry
Beith, A. J. Fatchett, Derek
Benn, Tony Faulds, Andrew
Bermingham, Gerald Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Boyes, Roland Fisher, Mark
Bray, Dr Jeremy Flannery, Martin
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Forrester, John
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Foster, Derek
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Foulkes, George
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Bruce, Malcolm Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Buchan, Norman Garrett, W. E.
Caborn, Richard George, Bruce
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Godman, Dr Norman
Campbell, Ian Gould, Bryan
Campbell-Savours, Dale Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Canavan, Dennis Hardy, Peter
Cartwright, John Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Clarke, Thomas Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Clay, Robert Home Robertson, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hoyle, Douglas
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Coleman, Donald Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) John, Brynmor
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Corbett, Robin Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Corbyn, Jeremy Kennedy, Charles
Cowans, Harry Kilfedder, James A.
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Craigen, J. M. Kirkwood, Archy
Crowther, Stan Lamond, James
Cunliffe, Lawrence Leadbitter, Ted
Dalyell, Tam Leighton, Ronald
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Litherland, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Loyden, Edward Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
McCartney, Hugh Rooker, J. W.
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Rowlands, Ted
McGuire, Michael Sedgemore, Brian
McKelvey, William Sheerman, Barry
McNamara, Kevin Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McTaggart, Robert Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
McWilliam, John Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Madden, Max Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Marek, Dr John Skinner, Dennis
Martin, Michael Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Maxton, John Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Maynard, Miss Joan Snape, Peter
Meadowcroft, Michael Soley, Clive
Michie, William Spearing, Nigel
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Strang, Gavin
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Tinn, James
Nellist, David Wallace, James
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Warden, Gareth (Gower)
O'Brien, William Wareing, Robert
O'Neill, Martin Weetch, Ken
Park, George Welsh, Michael
Parry, Robert White, James
Pavitt, Laurie Wigley, Dafydd
Pendry, Tom Williams, Rt Hon A.
Pike, Peter Wilson, Gordon
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Winnick, David
Prescott, John Woodall, Alec
Randall, Stuart Wrigglesworth, Ian
Redmond, M. Young, David (Bolton SE)
Richardson, Ms Jo
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Tellers for the Noes:
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Mr. Frank Haynes and
Robertson, George Mr. Alan McKay.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Requirements and Resources) Miscellaneous Provisions Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 26th March, be approved.

Resolved, That the draft Supplementary Benefit (Resources) Amendment Regulations 1985, which were laid before this House on 21st March, be approved.—[Mr. Newton.]

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